Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. – 1 Samuel 12:23 ESV
Samuel was near the end of his prophetic ministry. He had faithfully executed his duties as a prophet of God and had actually served as the last judge over the nation of Israel. So when the people came to him clamoring for and demanding that God give them a king just like all the other nations, Samuel was less than happy. He felt rejected by the people. Of course, on the surface, he blasted them for rejecting God as their King. But God saw through his anger and said, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). Over the years, Samuel had had plenty of opportunities to witness the stubbornness and rebellion of the people of Israel first hand. Their arrogant demand for a king was just one more example of their unwillingness to recognize God as their sovereign ruler and Lord.
Chapter 12 starts off with a very defensive-laden monologue by Samuel. “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day” (1 Samuel 12:1-2 ESV). He is still upset. He demands that the people voice their complaints or accusations against him. He wants to know why they have rejected him. Did he steal something? If he did, he would make restitution. Had he defrauded anyone? Was his leadership oppressive? Had he ruled unfaithfully by taking bribes? The people swore before God that Samuel had done none of those things and was undeserving of their treatment of him. You can tell from the passage that Samuel was still upset about their demand for a king. He had taken it personally.
Then he recounted all the ways in which the people of Israel had sinned against God over the years. Time and time again, the people had cried out to God and He had delivered them. All the way back to their captivity in Egypt, God had heard their cries and provided them with victory over their enemies. “But they forgot the Lord their God…” (1 Samuel 12:9 ESV). And now they were doing it again. “And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you” (1 Samuel 12:12-13 ESV). The people may have been rebellious, but they weren’t stupid. They got Samuel’s point and confessed their sin and begged Samuel to pray for them. They feared the rejection of God. So Samuel assured them, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:20-22 ESV).
Then Samuel said something to them that was probably difficult for him to say. “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23 ESV). As much as Samuel may have desired to see divine judgment meted out on the people for their rejection of him and their sin against God, he knew he wasn’t free from his responsibility to pray for and instruct them. God had not released him from his duties as a prophet. To fail to pray for them and teach them would have been a sin for Samuel. In spite of their stubbornness and rebellion, Samuel was obligated by God to minister to and pray for them. The rejection of our leadership by others is a difficult thing to stomach. Our pride suffers. Our feelings get hurt. And we find it easy to justify a decision to abandon our God-given responsibility to pray for them. Parents face this situation every day. Our children refuse to listen to us, rejecting our authority over their lives and demanding to make their own decisions. At those times it could be easy to give up and stop lifting them up in prayer. But their rejection of our authority doesn’t release us from our God-given responsibility to care for them. Samuel may have been rejected by the people, but he was still obligated by his commitment to God. There will be those in our lives who refuse to listen to us. There will be times when others will reject our input and fail to recognize our legitimate care for their lives. But rather than abandon them in anger and resentment, we must pray for them. Like Samuel, we must learn to say, “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” We must keep on loving by continuing to pray for them. We must keep on trusting God by continuing to teach them, leaving the results up to Him. It’s easy to pray for those who listen to and honor us. But prayers for the rebellious and sinful come hard. When we lose our influence over others, rather than give up, we must lift them up to God. We must love them enough to trust them into His care.